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Suffolk DA Agrees to Reduce Murder Charges Against Arnold King

Citing evidence of racism in the jury selection process, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins has agreed to reduce the 1971 murder conviction of Arnold King.

Rollins said she made the decision based on input from her office's Integrity Review Bureau, which recommended reducing the verdict against King to manslaughter. Rollins says racism played a role in King's conviction. Her decision means that his sentence on first degree murder charges has been served.

King, who is Black, was convicted of the 1971 robbery and murder of John Labanara, who was white. Labanara was working as an aide to Boston Mayor Kevin White when he was shot in the head. King had been out of jail for a few days before the killing.

Rollins says during King's trial, prosecutors rejected every prospective Black juror. An all-white jury convicted King of first degree murder. Rollins also says the trial took place during a time of racial unrest in Boston.

“The issues being raised in the Arnie King case speak directly to Boston’s documented and painful history on race relations," Rollins said. "Mr. King stands convicted of a heinous murder. Mr. Labanara had the brightest of futures ahead of him and his loved ones and community still feel his loss five decades later."

Rollins says she has been in contact with the Labanara's family about her decision, which she says "achieves a just result."

"John Labanara was murdered and his family has lived and will continue to live with that awful fact. The man who killed Mr. Labanara, however, did not receive a fair trial as afforded and required by our constitution. Racism undid this verdict and conviction," Rollins said. "Any anger and disappointment should fall squarely at the feet of this office’s decisions in 1972. Although Mr. King is no longer the 18-year-old who committed murder, Mr. Labanara’s family still grieves and will never see John again. This is not a victory."

King was released from prison in July after a judge agreed to his motion for a new trial. Citing the dangers posed to King in jail due to the coronavirus pandemic, and his rehabilitative efforts, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders agreed to release him while he awaited a new trial, according to The Boston Globe. He had served 49 years of his life sentence.

Rollins' decision means there won't be a new trial and he has served his sentence.

King's attorney David Nathanson said Rollins made a thoughtful decision and the result is fair.

"DA Rollins gets credit for being deliberative about this," Nathanson said. " This gives everyone the opportunity to maintain the conviction and insure that Mr. King is held responsible."

Nathanson says King plans to work to help people who have been released from prison and help with addiction counseling.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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